Filmmaker Srijit Mukherji and actor Anirban Bhattacharya tell us why Gumnaami needs to be seen
For a change, one of Tollywood’s most bankable filmmakers, Srijit Mukherji, is not bothered about the box office success of his Puja release, Gumnaami. Nor is he concerned about the accolades or the applause that might come his way. And this, he tells us, after fighting so many controversies, litigations and challenges that came his way while making this film on the disappearance of one of the greatest Indian leaders and freedom fighters, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. “Gumnaami is my national duty as a filmmaker, and not just a film. I am not looking at profits or box office success. My purpose was to get the film released. Since the moment it gets released, it will bring up questions that were locked away for 74 years, to suit personal agenda and political equations. And, those questions are now going to be unleashed on the minds of Indians. The entire nation will know what questions to ask when you want to find out what happened to Netaji,” says Srijit, as Gumnaami, starring Prosenjit Chatterjee, among others, runs to packed houses since its release on October 2.
Srijit even put up an emphatic statement to that end on Facebook on the release date, stating, “Ab tumhare hawale hain watan sathiyo” (the fate of the nation is in your hands). “Now it’s up to the people, organisations, independent researchers, the man on the street, and the government to wake up, and make sure that this issue is alive for at least the next 25 years, and we get to know actually what happened,” says Srijit. We caught up with Srijit and actor Anirban Bhattacharya, who plays Netaji researcher Chandrachur Dhar in the film, for a chat, even as the duo is set to work together again in Dwitiyo Purush, the much-anticipated sequel to one of Mukherji’s biggest hits, Baishe Srabon. Excerpts from the interview:
Anirban, how difficult or easy has it been playing Chandrachur in Gumnaami?
Anirban Bhattacharya: A researcher’s main involvement is reflected in his research papers. To have and express the kind of passion a researcher has for his subject, I had to internalise and personalise the pain and hurt of Netaji’s disappearance. That, how can a man of Netaji’s stature, who was travelling across the world, trying to get support to free his country, all of a sudden disappear and not return to his country. This pains me personally. And, the script was just like a research paper. It was very extensive and that helped me a lot, to internalise my character.
Srijit Mukherji: You know, every other Bengali has, at some point of time, researched Netaji. I got so many calls from so many people with their inputs, big or small. This is the kind of profound impact Netaji had on people, and he fired the imagination in so many of us. So, Chandrachur is a prototype of uncompromising and determined researchers, who are willing to sacrifice anything in their quest for truth.
AB: I had never read much about Netaji, apart from regular school texts or usual books like Ami Netaji Ke Dekhechi and Subhash Ghore Pherey Nai, which are present in any average Bengali household. But beyond that, my knowledge was limited, and I was not aware of the ‘Gumnaami Baba’ theory for a long time.
This will be your fifth venture with Anirban after Uma, Shah Jahan Regency, Ek Je Chilo Raja and Vinci Da. Why did you choose him for this particular role?
SM: Anirban gives me a range, a huge spectrum as an actor, and there’s a comfort zone, a solid understanding with him. As an actor, he knows his strengths and weakness, and he knows how to hide his weakness, which is his greatest strength. He’s electric on stage and a powerful actor across all media. He’s a born stage actor, and his presence in cinema is well-thought-out and well-planned. The way he moulds himself for a character requires great commitment, intelligence, dedication and homework.
Are you very different as a movie actor than when you are on stage?
AB: I am a trained theatre actor, and I came into movies while doing theatre. The main difference between theatre and cinema is that you have to have a strong understanding of the camera, and it’s a bit more complex that way. For the past seven-eight years, I have watched a lot of movies from an actor’s perspective, to understand the evolution and growth of an actor with age and experience. Watching cinema helps one a lot to grow as an actor, I believe.
Will we see Anirban in more vital roles?
SM: I’ve always cast him in very vital roles. Uma is inconceivable without Mohitosh, the antagonist (played by Anirban). In Ek Je Chilo Raja, the plot doesn’t build without Satya’s involvement, and he was terrific in it.
AB: Yes, in fact, I consider that role to be my best so far with Srijit.
SM: He was terrific in it, simply outstanding. If I were a jury member, I’d definitely award him for that incredible portrayal. In Shah Jahan Regency too, he sang a song that became viral, and he played the role of a spoilt billionaire perfectly. After you see Gumnaami, this question will be null and void. You have to see it to believe it. I think that’s the reason why women go crazy about him. We were at Ashutosh College for promotions the other day, and we could hear no voice, except a huge number of female voices chanting his name.
Srijit, you almost sound jealous of all the female attention that he’s getting...
SM: Oh no, my heart is too big, with a lot of space to accommodate everyone.
Is Gumnaami also being made in Hindi?
SM: Initially, the makers had a plan, and even KK and Gulshan Devaiah expressed interest to play Chadrachur Dhar and Anupam Kher wanted to play Netaji. But it’s logistically not possible right now, and hence we got it dubbed in Hindi, which will be released countrywide on October 11, jointly by SVF and a Mumbai-based studio.
And, what’s lined up next for you?
SM: As I’ve kept no post-release promotions for Gumnaami, I’d start pre-production work for my next thriller, Dwitiyo Purush, where Anirban is also acting.
AB: Yes, and it’s a kind of a role that I’m sure of not getting again in the future. It’s very interesting.
SM: I can’t reveal more about the movie right now, but yes, it’s a sequel and a kind of spin-off from Baishe Srabon. Parambrata Chatterjee and Raima Sen are also there. I can’t reveal more than that since it’s a thriller.